Restoring the Relationship Between Health and Cities

The built environment has a unique and distinct impact on the health of its inhabitants.  Former CNU plenary speaker, Dr. Richard Jackson, recently published an article in the Journal of Public Health where he reviews the rocky history between the two.   

He begins by making the connection between health effects of 19th Century slums and sprawled communities.  We have slowly seen our nation’s health on a downward spiral as planning continues to favor greenfield and sprawling development.   This combined with the effects of global warming have inspired a new wave of planning focused on sustainability.  Dr. Jackson notes how the environmental movement, specifically new urbanism, is beginning to change this relationship.  By proxy, there has been an increase in the number of projects that provide health benefits to their inhabitants.    

This new era began in academia, but there is evidence of it everywhere.  There has been an increase in published articles and conference presentations geared towards the issue as well.  Most importantly, Dr. Jackson notes, there has been an increase in use and development of health assessment tools.  This signifies that the issue is going beyond being a simple trend and really becoming an interdisciplinary point of interest. Dr. Jackson calls for more focus on the issue though.  He outlines a specific plan of action.

Foremost, we need more detailed, extensive research that will help us define the relationship between planning and health more explicitly.  CNU is working towards this with its Health Districts Initiative.  Secondly, gearing research and efforts towards low-income and minority populations should be top priority.  These populations carry the heaviest burden and therefore deserve the bulk of the efforts.  Finally, Dr. Jackson calls for fostering our research, professionals, and political leaders in their attempts to bridge the interdisciplinary gap in order to remedy the issue.

With renewed, dedicated attention to this topic, we may be able to not only counteract the effects of sprawl, but also provide places and communities that improve health!  To find out more about CNU Health Districts and the commitment we are making to healthy cities check out http://www.cnu.org/healthdistricts. Click here to read the full article! 

Richard J. Jackson, Andrew L. Dannenberg, and Howard Frumkin.  (2013). Health and the Built Environment: 10 Years After. American Journal of Public Health. e-View Ahead of Print. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301482

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